Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My name is Adam, and I am 13.7 billion years old

I’ve been spending my free time between semesters trolling scripture for a green ministry class I’m teaching this spring. Among others, I read from Genesis a couple of chapters I’ve read dozens of times and found a remarkable lesson. In the second account of creation (the one that appears in the second chapter), we find:

7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

The earth’s physical attributes and every living thing we find here – past, present, or future – are inextricably connected. The surface of our planet is largely covered with water, which is full of salts, leached from rocks over the eons. Water vapor also permeates our atmosphere, which is itself mostly nitrogen, with some oxygen, carbon dioxide, ozone, argon, and other bits of this and that. Much of the solid portion of our soils (as well as the cocktail of dissolved solids in soil-water) is the result of rocks being physically and chemically picked apart.
From this nonliving environment bacteria, protists, plants, fungi, lichens, and animals build soil, fix nitrogen into chemicals useful to living things, and spin carbon dioxide and water into sugars and (with those useful nitrogen bits) proteins. We see that in a literal sense, living things, including humans are made of the nonliving “dust” of Genesis, along with the “breath of life”. We’re composed of the recycled leftovers of the begininng of the universe, squashed into stars and blown apart, squashed again into our Sun and Earth, worn ragged and perfect by relentless physcial and chemical action.
But we are not an end result. We are not the owners of all of this mineral wealth that is our physical selves. Instead, as we see in Gen 3:19, we will return all of this. Implicit in the “to dust you will return” is the macabre fact that our remains will wind through the long, slow cycles to become carbon dioxide, perhaps limestone, perhaps sea salt, and certainly part of other animals, plants, and living things so insignificant, we don’t bother to learn their names. Moreover, with every breath we take from the moment of our birth until we expire, we participate in this conversion of nonliving into living, and living into nonliving.
So what do we get out of this? Another somber reminder of mortality on the eve of a new year? No, instead we see that we’re blessed with much, but that we’re only caring for these gifts for a while. We see that we are temporary participants in creation, sharing everything with other living things, and that we are not alone in this role. Our gifts and responsibilities belong as much to our grandchildren’s grandchildren as they do to us and to our ancestors. We have a responsibility to take care of them.

Image source: Freer + Sackler Galleries


Pat Jenkins said...

the earth you describe seems to be the one MOST destructive to herself!! and we are not immune in suffering from her efforts that cause decay!! maybe we need an eniviromentalist movement aimed at stopping the earth!!.. happy new year!!

E. R. Dunhill said...

Is it your feeling that the Almighty was in error in creating our home? Happy New Year.

Sue said...

Last week a poetry circle One Single Impression that I participate in had the weekly prompt "stardust." It was interesting how a majority of the participants, myself included, came up with poems that echo the theme of your post. We are but the dust of stars!

E. R. Dunhill said...

I love to hear that other people are exploring this. It's a powerful theme that I think underscores our connectedness, not only with contemporary people, but with everyone who came before us, and everyone who will follow.

Stacey D said...

E.R. - thanks for the heads up on Calvin DeWitt's Earth-Wise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues. With the new year I am dreaming of new ways to inspire our environmental ministry... and seek inspiration for my own heart. Your help is so much appreciated!